The NHS is doing too little to address the annual loss of 10.3 million working days through sickness.

The figures are revealed in a follow-up study to Dame Carol Black’s review last year of the health of Britain’s workforce. While NHS staff are probably not particularly sickly, the record of the service compared with other parts of the economy is poor.

It is not that the average figure for days off sick is relatively high - simplistic comparisons between sectors are fraught with difficulties. But performance across the service is too variable, and there is little sign of improvement.

The NHS should be leading the way in driving down sick rates. If ever there was a captive market for messages about diet, smoking and exercise, the 1.3 million NHS staff are it. Similarly, managers should be setting the highest standards for avoiding work related injuries such as back strain.

The annual cost of unplanned absence is around £1.7bn; the cost in terms of patient safety and increased stress among colleagues can only be guessed at.

Too many NHS staff in sickness and in health